Fireman Robert Penn served aboard the USS Iowa during the bombardment of San Juan, Puerto Rico and the blockage of Santiago de Cuba. He was the only African-American sailor aboard the USS Iowa at the time.
He earned a Congressional Medal of Honor when a boiler malfunctioned and blew out a manhole gasket. He repaired the boiler by balancing on wood and coal buckets above the boiling water, saving his fellow sailors and rescuing the USS Iowa. After leaving the U.S. Navy, he moved to Las Animas, Colorado. Robert Penn died June 8, 1912.